In The Holiday, a film in which two lovelorn ladies on opposite sides of the world decide to swap homes for a couple of weeks, there’s a scene in which Kate Winslet’s character Iris offers an elderly neighbour a lift home. It just so happens (of course) that he’s an Oscar-winning screenwriter who worked with all the greats during Hollywood’s Golden Age, and he describes their crossing paths as “some meet-cute”. Then he explains the term: “It’s how two characters meet in a movie. Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in and both go to the same men’s pyjama department. The man says to the salesman, ‘I just need bottoms’ and the woman says, ‘I just need a top.’ They look at each other and that’s it. That’s the meet-cute.”
Whether on screen, on the page or even in that little old thing we know as real life, an iconic love story just wouldn’t be the same without an equally iconic meet-cute. Once two characters collide – often in an unusual and/or hilarious way – they’re only a couple of surmountable conflicts away from their happy-ever-after. Imagine if Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy were just peachy from the start, or if Mr Rochester's horse hadn’t slipped on ice and Jane Eyre had never needed to rush to his aid. They’d be rather dull stories without the incident that sets the whole thing into motion.
Bookshops, as we all know, are one of the greatest things about this planet, and that’s why I think – nay, am convinced – that they provide the perfect environments for these serendipitous moments. As a book lover, and particularly a book lover who enjoys browsing real bookshops with real books, it’s always a joy to spend time in these hallowed sanctums of the written word. Whether you need somewhere to kill the ten-minute wait until a train arrives or you’re popping in for a proper browse of a Saturday morning, a bookshop (and the people that work there) are always willing to oblige.
They’re also inherently romantic places: the smell of all that paper, be it new or vintage, the universally flattering ambient lighting that so often exists in these establishments, delightful architecture from one period or another. Think about it: Shakespeare and Co, the Parisian bookshop in the shadow of Notre Dame, with its cosy alcoves filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves; the OG Daunt Books in Marylebone, housed in the Edwardian premises of a former bookseller that’s thought to have been the world’s first custom-built bookshop, resplendent with its wood-panelled galleries and three floors of books arranged by country; or take a moment to consider your local bookshop. The two closest to where I live are small yet perfectly formed, with a crowd of regulars. Whichever bookshop you might find yourself in, there’s no doubt it’s perfectly engineered for a meet-cute.
Read more: 7 things I learned as a bookseller
It’s a place where people are at ease, surrounded by favourite writers and, one would assume, by like-minded people united by a common love of literature. Even if you don’t share the same taste in books, a mutual interest in reading is all that’s required to start a conversation that, you never know, could lead to something more. As a former bookseller, I’ve been witness first-hand to the fact that there really is no place like a bookshop to allow strangers to strike up animated chatter, whether it’s about a shared favourite author, a helpful recommendation to someone in search of their next read, or even a gift. Best of all, with all those books to browse, it’s more than easy to linger in a bookshop for genuine reasons, without having to creepily lurk around the store hoping to pull off a rom-com-worthy meet-cute.
Bookshops exist at the heart of their local communities – not just as a carefree place to while away the time, but as a place capable of bringing people together and forging lifelong connections. With many bookshops hosting readings, book groups and other events throughout the year, don’t be a stranger; your meet-cute could be just round the corner.
In Notting Hill, William Thacker meets A-list actress Anna Scott when she pops into his travel bookshop. You’ve Got Mail sees Kathleen Kelly get to know Joe Fox in an online chat room before meeting him for the first time in her children’s bookshop – not realising he is the owner of a mega-chain of bookshops that threatens to run her out of business. Dash and Lily finally meet at a party after the former finds a mysterious red notebook, filled with clues and dares, on the shelves of the Strand Bookstore.
And: I met my partner in the Chelsea bookshop where we both worked at the time. We may have bonded over the music playing on the stereo before realising we had similar tastes in books, but 12 years later we're still together.
I’m not saying you’ll have a 100% success rate, but if you’re already a book lover or have been trying to get back into your reading groove – and you’re looking for your perfect meet-cute moment – then maybe it’s time to put down the dating apps and get down to your local bookshop?